Hourou Musuko Anime Review
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Title: Hourou Musuko
Other Titles: Wandering Son
Genre: Romance, Slice of Life, Drama, School
Studio: AIC Classic
Based on: The Hourou Musuko manga by Takako Shimura
Length: The show is made up of a single 12 episode season, with the story beginning partway through the plot of Takako’s source manga material. Each episode is roughly 23 minutes long.
Release Dates: Aired January – April 2011
Where to watch: Crunchyroll has the entire season in its library, available for streaming 24/7.
Overall: 56 / 70
Geeky: 3 / 5 Gentle comedy and an entire plotline devoted to an instalment of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet make for a wonderfully animated literary experience – and all in Japanese, no less. We would say this is a moderately geeky show; settling into one’s own skin is a sentiment able to be appreciated by viewers of all introvert backgrounds, and the shared personal struggles of the middle school class are infinitely relatable. All kinds of content find themselves ported from the west to the east, from online slots on Bitcasino to stage plays. In this case, it’s awesome to see Shakespeare viewed through the lens of a new and distinct culture.
Sweetie: 4 / 5 Hourou Musuko is deeply touching, regardless of one’s background or identity relative to its characters. I wouldn’t exactly call it cutesy so to speak, but the honesty of friendship and the raw moments of emotion peppered throughout result in a powerful experience nonetheless. Heartfelt, funny, beautiful – Hourou Musuko is realistic at its core, both in terms of life’s expectations and its results. The bond between protagonists Takatsuki and Nitori is a particular highlight.
Overview: 8 /10 Its content and delicate handling of the subject would have many label Hourou Musuko as a simple ‘Queer,’ or ‘LGBT’ anime. Identity is the topic of its main themes, after all, and its popularity is largely due to its responsible confrontation of difficult character situations. All too often Japanese culture paints queer characters in a comedic or derogatory light, and its refreshing to see that dynamic turns on its head – Hourou Musuko takes gender non-conforming characters and gives them an honest life on screen. But there’s more to this show than just representation.
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There’s laughter, there’s love, and there’s a host of experience and perspective all balanced amidst a dramatic beat in every episode. Anyone with a taste for slice of life anime should enjoy this show. Anyone looking to better understand queer adolescence should find it informative. Its introspective storytelling leaves little to be desired, and its subtle direction carries great emotional weight as the story follows our cast through their early years of young adulthood. Family, school and future all lie in the balance.
Story: 8 /10 Shuichi Nitori is a relatively normal child – a good student, a good friend, quiet and reserved. With a slight build and feminine interests, they find themselves at odds with the world around them. You see, Nitori was assigned male at birth, but identifies as female. Yoshino Takatsuki, on the other hand is tall, a tomboy, with their own similar counterpart desires. They were assigned female, but wish to live as a man. After sharing such secrets between themselves upon meeting in the fifth grade, they quickly become firm friends. Commence queer transgender drama and teenage hijinks.
Hourou Musuko follows these two as they venture into adolescence, examining their friendships, exploring their secrets and watching from afar as they begin their first tentative romantic adventures – and many a romantic adventure is to be had! Towards the end of elementary school Nitori, Takatsuki and another girl, Saori, clash in an unsatisfactory love triangle that leaves all three-broken hearted. Because of this both Nitori and Takatsuki lose their support system and space for exploration, and Saori quickly becomes embittered to them both. Set the stage for episode one (as all of the above is told in flashbacks throughout the first half of the series).
Junior High has begun, and Nitori is more isolated than ever before. They still harbour romantic feelings for Takatsuki, their sister (who shares a room with Nitori) is unsupportive and puberty is on its way. This is a child lacking information and affirmation, a child who dresses as the girl others do not see after school and struggles with a deep fear of the future. The spaces where they can be themselves are few and far between, to say the least. So Nitori falls back on their friends, rebuilding a platonic relationship with Takatsuki and meeting plenty of new ones along the way.
The show generally follows a slow, melancholy pace thereafter, with a key plotline in the latter half of the series involving a gender-bent performance of Romeo and Juliet. Takatsuki is Romeo – Nitori, sadly, is not Juliet. As the play enters rehearsals, Nitori begins to learn more and more about themselves, being the one to rewrite the play, and their family is soon made aware of their internal feelings. Beyond that there’s Anna – a friend of Nitori’s sister, she takes an interest in them, an interest which eventually develops into a relationship. We also meet Yuki, an adult woman who once found herself in Nitori’s position, as well as her boyfriend Shiina, who counsels the two in times of crisis and offers generally impartial advice. Yuki stands as a testament to Nitori’s possible future, and as a friend to the both of them.
As the show goes on family, friends, love and school begin to pressure both Takatsuki and Nitori, tension builds, and the future remains uncertain. Want to know more? Watch the show and find out! There’s plenty of detail hidden beyond the broad strokes and conflict mentioned here.
Characters: 8 / 10 While each episode of Hourou Musuko centres around the experiences of one Shuichi Nitori, a young teen in the midst of exploring their gender identity and place in the world, a vibrant cast of supporting character maintain a constant presence. There’s Makato, the childhood friend and son of a baker with a crush on the homeroom teacher. There’s Anna, the love interest, Chizuru the impulsive clown and Momo the shy voice of reason. There’s also Takatsuki, who’s less of a supporting cast member and more of a secondary lead in many ways. They share Nitori’s challenge, wishing they had been born a boy and muddling their way through a series of intensely complex emotions. Together the two embark on a journey of self-discovery, centre stage in a production full of life.
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The amazing thing about HM is that it manages to coherently develop its characters all at once in such a short space of time. Over twelve episodes each and every cast member sees visible growth, change, loss and gain, with every curve in the road masterfully handled. It’s raw, it’s realistic, and things don’t always have a happy ending.
Art: 9 /10 From Nitori to her parents, from Takatsuki to random girl number five sitting quietly at the back of the classroom, each member of Hourou Musuko’s cast has a distinctive and recognisable character design. People move smoothly, physics play out naturally, and colours are sharp as can possibly be. What really makes the show for me is how it plays out on both a macro and micro scale – the small, human details of movement contrasted against a painstakingly animated environmental background. When Nitori steps across the road crossing and is knocked by a businessman, ruffling her outfit, the chaos of movement and bodies is representative of her personal struggle. When she adjusts her clothing, the flow of the material pays close attention to detail. Really good stuff. Also, the cherry blossoms are gorgeous.
Music: 8 /10 Sound director Jin Aketagawa peppers this anime with music at all the right moments. Simultaneously uplifting and hollow, hopeful and lost (excuse the dramatic hyperbole), scenes are lifted into excellence by single notes and symphonies alike. The intro and outro tracks are also a highlight – Rie Fu’s For You is full of innocence.
Voice acting: 8 /10 With no English dub currently available, Hourou Musuko is best enjoyed by non-Japanese speakers in its original form, albeit with subtitles scrolling by along the bottom of the screen. This is a show that maintains a wide cast of characters, but it does so wonderfully, with each voice maintaining a distinct personality and tone. The lilt and inflection of each sentence translates across all language, strengthening the emotional integrity of painful scenes and lightening the comedy of their counterparts.
There are gentle beats, there are harsh beats. There are loud, explosive moments and periods of extraordinary stillness, and in each one, the voice actors respond accordingly. Nitori and Takatsuki’s roles are perhaps the most challenging that the show has to offer, but they also happen to be the highlight of its voice acting line-up. Angst is easily overdone, yet there’s nothing in either of these characters dialogue that oversteps the line. Rather, less is more. Pain is quiet.